For seven years, L.A. youth organizations have pushed for the creation of a youth development department within the city. They’ve met with city council members and organized rallies with students across the county.
Now, it’s finally happening.
After months of council discussion, the department was approved in April, meaning that the City of LA is now beginning the process of outlining and blueprinting what it will look like.
“I hope to see a lot of these department leads and adults use this opportunity to eliminate a lot of these barriers that youth face — things like political jargon, or even college applications,” said Monica Rodriguez, who serves as a student board representative for the Youth Development task force on the project.
The youth development department will centralize the city’s resources for 800,000 youth in the city, providing teens and children between ages 10 and 25 access to services such as career preparation, youth counseling and leadership programs, according to Lou Calanche, founder of youth organization Legacy LA, which had been pushing for the department since 2014. The new department will merge the youth programs currently available across the City of LA’s 26 different departments.
“A more personal goal of mine for the department is to really sit down and talk to the youth of L.A. and hear their stories, and understand directly from them, from those that are receiving services from the city, are we doing a good job?” said Lisa Salazar, who was brought on as interim executive director of the youth development department in July.
The department was a significant win for many youth activists. Since October 2018, more than 300 students across the City of LA had come together to form the Invest in Youth Coalition, with support from other L.A. County groups, to push for a centralized youth development that would listen to youth
voices and invest in their needs. The creation of a Youth Development task force led by councilmember Monica Rodriguez and chaired by Calanche created a blueprint of the new department, hoping the city would follow suit.
“Really this shows that we have strength in numbers,” said Rodriguez, the student representative. “They have to listen to us because we’re showing up, you know, we’re voices that have to be listened to.”
Student representatives Rodriguez and Michelle Gutierrez said they want to see expansion in areas like mental health, access to technology, and assistance with college applications and career planning.
“Having a fully funded and fully implemented mental health program within that youth development department would really benefit L.A. city youth,” Gutierrez said. “When you’re really battling a mental illness or struggling with mental health, you’re going to need access to those services and so that’s one program I’m looking forward to seeing.”
Mayor Garcetti has allocated $1.1 million to the department, which will be the sole manager of funding and services surrounding youth-based programs so that funds and manpower can be properly distributed, Salazar said.
This year, the city will focus on building the department. Salazar is currently the only employee, but she plans to create eight more positions to focus on department outreach.
“I think the opportunities are endless, especially in light of the Olympics coming in 2028,” Salazar said. “They’ve made a commitment upward of $160 million just to support young people in Los Angeles with sports, education, art, so we want to make sure we have a coordinated approach and that we’re maximizing those dollars.”
She said she’s also hoping to develop a strategic three-year plan that will provide direction to city-wide services and make sure that funding is going into the right places. She also hopes to put together a cumulative report of all the city’s youth programs and services to evaluate how many people are receiving those resources.
“We want to make sure we’re being efficient, that we’re all communicating here so that we are meeting the needs of young people,” Salazar said.